Merging ARMS & ARHS Report to the School Committee, January 26, 2016
MERGING ARMS & ARHS REPORT TO THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE, JANUARY 26, 2016 (SPANISH)
MOPC Potential Consolidation Report & Process Recommendations. December 2015
CLARIFYING INFORMATION REGARDING DISTRICT PROJECTS
The changes being explored for the Amherst and Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools have, rightfully, been a topic of great conversation in the community and the focus of two recent op-ed articles. Such public discourse is essential for these significant decisions; however, as we address our educational needs as a community, it is imperative that we do so with complete and accurate information. Here is clarifying information about some concerns recently raised (with links to additional information listed within the document and active links included in my weekly email):
Concern 1: The process for changes in the districts is moving too quickly and input is not being solicited from teachers, parents, students and the community.
The Amherst Elementary Building Project has been ongoing for several years with many opportunities for stakeholder input. A Statement of Interest (SOI) was first submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority in 2007 to address the elementary building concerns, and the district followed up with annual submissions until the Wildwood SOI was accepted in 2013. Each SOI submission was discussed and approved at open meetings of the Amherst School Committee and Select Board. Once an SOI was accepted, moving forward with the MSBA process was discussed and approved by the Amherst Town Meeting in 2014. Since then, discussion of the building project has been featured at 16 School Committee meetings, 10 School Building Committee meetings, six PGO meetings, three School Council meetings, nine faculty meetings, one meeting with preschool families, two meetings with Special Education families, and six community forums. Information is also shared, and feedback solicited, on the Amherst Elementary Building Project Facebook page and the district website.
The schools have been dealing with a structural deficit for a decade now, with multiple administrators and school committees working to address these serious financial constraints. In 2014, representatives of the four Regional towns requested that the district explore consolidating the middle and high schools as a potential means of cost savings. The Regional School Committee was first notified of this exploration in April 2015. Since then, the district has engaged in a variety of outreach efforts designed to share information and elicit feedback, including a stakeholder survey that garnered approximately 1,000 responses, multiple community listening sessions, and the full-day Hurricane Revisioning Summit. Updates on both the Amherst Elementary Building Project and the potential Merging ARMS and ARHS Project are highlighted regularly in my weekly email and newsletter to all district families and staff members. These weekly updates are also shared with Town Meeting members and the broader community on the Office of the Superintendent page of the district website at www.arps.org.
There will continue to be outreach efforts and many opportunities and venues for community input as both of these projects progress. A public forum regarding the Amherst Elementary Building Project is already scheduled for January 13, 2016 and dates are being finalized for public forums regarding the potential Merging ARMS and ARHS project.
Concern 2: Past cost-savings decisions did not result in savings as promised (particularly, the decision to outsource food services in the districts and the closing of Marks Meadow)
Outsourcing food services in the school districts did result in significant savings. In FY2007, prior to outsourcing food services, the labor costs were $658,293. Assuming a conservative salary increase of 1.5% per year, that cost would be $741,562 in FY2015 if food service had remained in district. The actual cost of salaries in FY2015 is $602,882, a savings of more than $100,000.
Without question, closing Marks Meadow resulted in significant financial savings for the Amherst School District—just over $867,000 (Savings from Closing Marks Meadow). However, a question was raised about a signed agreement between the Town of Amherst and UMass ensuring cash payments to the town in lieu of the in-kind support represented by the Marks Meadow building. According to Amherst Finance Director Sandy Pooler, no such agreement was ever reached with UMass. Nevertheless, both the Amherst Town Manager and I have continued to negotiate annually with UMass for support to offset the cost of students living in University housing. My first formal proposal was in 2009, which involved a request to allow the district to continue utilizing the Marks Meadow building to house what was then our South Amherst Campus and East Street Alternative High School Programs. When this proposal was rejected, the two schools were combined in the South Amherst Campus location creating the South East Campus school (UMass Letter regarding South East Campus and East Street Alternative High School). In subsequent years, school data was included in the conversations between Town and UMass officials. In June 2015, I wrote to UMass Chancellor Subbaswamy requesting a meeting to discuss the significant rise in the cost of students living in UMass housing and potential ways to offset those costs (Umass Housing Costs Letter to Chancellor). Dr. Subbaswamy responded that any discussions around these issues would need to take place in the larger context of continuing negotiations with the Town of Amherst (Response from Chancellor Subbaswamy). When the new Amherst Town Manager is appointed, I will continue to work with him or her to negotiate a fair and equitable agreement with UMass that reduces the financial impact on our schools.
Concern 3: Redistricting the elementary schools after Marks Meadow closed did not result in equity in class sizes and the distribution of students from different socio-economic backgrounds because this is listed as a benefit of the proposed new configuration.
Before the elementary schools were redistricted at the end of the 2010 school year, there was a 44% difference between the school with the highest rate of free/reduced lunch eligible students and the school with the lowest rate. Currently, the difference is only 10%. While this is an admirable reduction, a configuration with a preK-grade one school and a grade 2-6 school would eliminate the imbalance completely since all students from each grade level would be in one building.
Concern 4: Redistricting led to “islands” of students in some of the apartment complexes which could not be avoided due to a number of transportation impediments. Eliminating the islands is presented as a benefit of one of the new elementary scenarios, but no analysis has been shared with the public regarding the maximum and median transportation times for students under each of the new scenarios.
A frequently asked questions document has been posted and updated regularly for both the Amherst Elementary School Building Project and the Merging ARMS & ARHS Project. The transportation implications for the elementary school configurations are addressed in question 5 of the elementary FAQ, which was posted on October 30. The information provided also contains links to a report showing the specifics for the bus routes. The link to the FAQ is available here.
Concern 5: One listed advantage of a two-school model is “Ensure that regular collaboration between groups of educators with similar positions can occur on a consistent basis so that best practices can be shared and transferred to multiple classrooms, providing a similar experience for all students.” The implications of this can be concerning given recent teacher and parent concerns about top-down imposition of teaching methods and programs.
Three years ago, School Instructional Leadership Teams (SILTs) were implemented at each school in the district. SILTs are teams of educators in each school that are integral in designing staff meetings and professional development. In addition to the work of the SILTs, teachers have been integral in the professional development offered in the district. At the last early release day on December 16, 17 of the professional development sessions were designed and facilitated by teacher leaders, not by school or district administrators. In a two-school model, the time required for teachers to travel to a training location could have been utilized for collaboration.
Concern 6: A vote on consolidation of grades 7-12 should simply be postponed for a year.
As has been shared, merging the middle and high schools is being explored due to financial constraints. Postponing a vote for a year will not forestall extensive budget cuts that will be required if no change is made.
Concern 7: The plusses and minuses of each elementary configuration option have not been fully explored.
Actually, the pros and cons of each potential configuration option have been explored extensively by the Wildwood School Building Committee and have been shared publicly in a number of ways. A chart summarizing each of the options is available on the website and on the Amherst School Building Project Facebook page. For extensive details about the options, you can link to the full 350 page Program Design Proposal report.
As more questions or concerns arise, they will addressed in the Superintendent's weekly newsletter to all families and staff.
hurricane revisioning summit
On Saturday, November 7, 2015, State Representative Ellen Story joined Superintendent Maria Geryk in hosting the Hurricane Revisioning Summit from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the Amherst Regional Middle School. Approximately 80 people gathered to discuss the potential consolidation of Amherst Regional Middle and High Schools and the larger issue of 21st century education. Participants included parents, district faculty and administrators, community leaders from the four Regional towns, and community partners. The day included an information-sharing session, small-group facilitated discussions, a sharing session, question and answer period and public comment period. Links to information from the Summit are below.
Hurricane Summit District Presentation
Hurricane Summit MOPC Presenation
Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson
Media Saves the Beach (Project-Based Learning video)
Video of Hurricane Revisioning Summit (morning and afternoon sessions)
frequently asked questions about 7-12 consolidation
Questions in the FAQ document were posed by participants in the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration stakeholder survey, which includes students, family members and members of the broader community. Answers are provided where available, and the document will be updated regularly as the process moves forward.
7-12 Revisioning FAQ (updated 10-26-15)
Superintendent's newsletter updates
Each Friday, Superintendent Maria Geryk provides an update for district staff and families through her weekly email and newsletters. These include many updates about 7-12 Revisioning and can be found here.
Notes on Possible Middle School and High School Consolidation (2/24/2015 & 4/10/2015):
MS - HS Consolidation for Four Towns Meeting and April 2015 update
Memorandum to the Regional School Committee with an update on the Exploration of Secondary Restructuring Options (5/12/2015):
May 2015 Update
Memorandum to the Regional School Committee with an Update on the Exploration of Secondary Restructuring Options (6/23/2015):
June 2015 Update
Memorandum to the Regional School Committee with an Update on the Exploration of Secondary Restructuring Options (7/23/2015):
July 2015 Update